London’s transport system is magic. Hop on a train and within 20-30 mins, you can be transported to a place so different, the culture shock will make you blink.
It’s often said that London is a city of villages, but really it goes further than that – it’s a city of scattered micro-cultures; a wondrous international hodge-podge.
Go west towards Kensington and you’ll find the Persian ghetto. A bit further out and Southall is like a mini-India, complete with ladies in glittering saris weaving through beeping traffic. Palmers Green has largest community of Greek Cypriots outside of Cyprus and the Kingsland Road is known as the “Pho Mile” because of the proliferation of Vietnamese shops and restaurants.
London is a melting pot but often the most vibrant pockets of ethnic communities – and the most authentic dishes – are found beyond Zone 1.
The other day a pal and I headed to New Malden, aka Little Korea or K Town, on a mission to hunt out some “proper” Korean food, having been underwhelmed by some tame, Anglicised offerings we had sampled in central London.
Walking through the doors of You Me was a transportive experience. Straight away we were being fussed over hy a charming Korean matriarch while the rest of her patrons chattered away in their native tongue. I’ve never been to Korea (on the list!) but this definitely didn’t feel like Kansas any more…
Obviously as a couple of Brits with far from expert knowledge about Korean food, kimchee was the first thing ordered and You Me’s was excellent – aged and pungent yet somehow still crunchy and even fresh on the palate, with a subtle fizz that sparkled on the tongue.
The kimchee was served with a couple of extras including bean sprouts dressed in sesame oil.
Bibimbap is another ubiquitous Korean dish and I was excited to try You Me’s version: the sizzling bowl arrived at the table holding such pretty, colourful piles of individual ingredients, it almost seemed a shame to combine them vigorously with our chopsticks. But the joy of the dish is breaking the egg yolk and mixing everything together, so some bits catch against the hot dish and become crisp.
Steamed buns were great – sweet, fluffy dough encasing nuggets of seasoned pork.
Moreish deep-fried chunks of chicken with garlic…
Beef ribs were cooked with mushrooms on another sizzling platter and were scissored into manageable strips at the table. If we had been more than two people, we would have cooked them ourselves at the barbecue sunk into our table.
Our new Korean mama advised us to try the house-made noodles with beef and a slightly gloopy black sauce which I forgot to photograph – too much food to keep track of!
Another reason to return with a larger army in tow – we were utterly defeated by the amount we ordered and had to get a lot of it packaged up to take home (which You Me was more than happy to do).
Enough food for four people, or two with plentiful leftovers cost around £55 – including a couple of Korean beers.
I spotted some private rooms for small/medium sized parties, in which you get your own low table and barbecue – this could be a great spot for a low-key celebration. Sure enough, we saw a Korean family carrying in a child’s birthday cake for a family party.
I’ll be back to You Me restaurant with as many people as I can convince to journey to the exotic depths of Zone 4, and one of these days I will go to Korea itself. If only you could put Oyster card journeys towards air miles…